Tuesday, November 15, 2016

TEST DRIVE: 2016 VOLKSWAGEN PASSAT DRIVEN - 1.8 TSI COMFORTLINE & 2.0 TSI HIGHLINE, INITIAL DRIVE EXPERIENCE

I was in Langkawi recently courtesy of Volkswagen Passenger Cars Malaysia. We were flown in to try out the better late than never all-new Volkswagen Passat B8. It replaces the Passat B7 which has soldiered on for at least a year and a half longer than what should have been. A mid-2015 launch in Malaysia.


The reason why we were delayed in getting the car is due to the fact that the Passat B7 was part of the CKD locally assembled program. When Volkswagen Malaysia first ordered the CKD kits sales were on a high, so many kits were ordered. Suddenly things changed and sales slowed down, but the orders for CKD kits were already signed and sealed causing a backlog in cars produced in Pekan, Pahang. Now obviously you have to sell them all first before you can start with the new car. And so, here is the Passat B8. Finally.

I first saw this car a while ago when Volkswagen Malaysia brought it in as a preview in September 2014. I was very impressed when I first saw it with its more flowing lines and wider looking styling. The car now looks wider than as there are (unbroken) horizontal styling lines in the front of the car that continues from the grille to the top of the DRLs and headlight cluster. The execution overall is much better. It has grown up in most dimensions but it is lighter and therefore more efficient. There are more usual technical upgrades and other tech items. The new Passat is also better looking – the extra width makes it look grander than before. It looks more upmarket than before and the inside looks more luxurious and wouldn't look out of place in a similar sized Audi A6.
1.8 on the left, 2.0 to the right - note the exhaust bits

We drove the mid-specced 1.8 TSI Comfortline and the 2.0 TSI Highline. The 1.8 Comfortline sits in the middle of the three car lineup, the 1.8 Trendline, 1.8 Comfortline and the 2.0 Highline. You can tell a 1.8 from a 2.0 simply by the wheels – 17inch wheels and tyres for the 1.8 and 18inch wheels and tyres for the 2.0. The other clue is the rear bumper. The 1.8 does not get integrated chrome tailpipes like the 2.0 (which is actually faux tailpipes with the rear one behind the bumper/integrated tailpipes – on one side). Of course, the 2.0 looks much more classier.

As for the interior, the Passat B8 is a nice place to be seated in. The seats are supportive and classy looking. I do like the ribbed leather seats and the strip that runs from the doors to the air-vents from one side to the middle and to the other side. It also works with the wood grain in the 2.0 which also follows the lines in the dashboard. As for build quality. The plastics are soft touch where it needs to be and everything feels well thought out. No issues about ergonomics here and everything falls into place and clear to see. The cabin is not as austere as the previous Passat and it is also one of the nicier looking D segment cabins around. There is a wiff of premium in it (especially in the 2.0). Quite close to what an Audi would offer you.

One good fact to note is that VPCM had specced out our Malaysian Passats based on the Comfortline rather than the more basic Trendline. This means that the dashboard is all soft touch instead of the hard plastic dashboard in the lower trendline. This also means that Malaysian Trendline will also come with soft touch plastics. This fact impresses me because I am a stickler for refinement details and I know that buyers of the entry level Trendline here will not get any lesser than the high specced cars.

Equipment levels in both Comfortline and Highline are good. The 2.0 Highline adds a full Active Info Display screen with full TFT animation display in place of the analog instrument cluster of the 1.8. So it gets integrated maps, readouts and other details. It gets SatNav standard which shows up right in the instrument cluster. It also gets Volkswagen's DCC (Dynamic Chassis Control) which changes engine, steering, air conditioning, damper characteristics depending on what you want (as well as a Individual setting to set yourself). Both cars can park by itself if you want it to do so. Lots of equipment. Lots of safety equipment too.

As for the powertrain and drivetrain, both the 1.8liter and 2.0liter TSI engines have been improved. This latest round of direct injection, variable valve timing, turbocharged Volkswagen engines have benefited from various improvements that were made to improve reliability (and to lessen oil consumption). The 1.8liter makes 180ps/250Nm whilst the 2.0liter makes 220ps and a stonking 350Nm torque.

The DSG transmission in the 1.8 is a dry clutch type whereas the 2.0 gets a wet type clutch. Both have also benefited from numerous upgrades. There are new clutch plates with materials that will not glaze over and cause juddering in the gearboxes - Malaysian traffic causes the clutch plates to glaze over as it gets hot and cools down too quickly making the earlier clutch plates glaze over and causes slippages. There are better TCU and mechatronic controllers. These items were upgraded along with the change in transmission fluids which was the first of many changes done after the issues cropped up. VPCM's after sales director had even stated that the new clutch plates are designed to last up to 200,000km.

Anyway, what I could tell whilst driving both variants was that the cars are smooth and the gear changes are excellent even in traffic. It feels smooth without any judder in first or second gear. The 2.0's DSG is slightly smoother on kickdown but aside from that there is no marked difference in terms of gearshifts and overall refinement. I also believe that Volkswagen has made their dual clutch gearbox smoother than ever. Shifts are as rapid as before too.

The Drive Experience
Passat 2.0 Highline 

As for overall performance, I did not manage to take the Passat B8 higher than 140kmh. At that speed you cannot tell how it behaves as it is a German car. A D-segment, full sized German car. One designed for the Autobahn and high speed cruising. Wind noise at these speeds isn't an issue. As for stability at these speeds, it just shrugs off 140kmh with ease. So to actually feel the handling of the Passat B8, we had the option of going up Gunung Raya, which has tight corners and a whole lot of fun. I usually thought the road towards Datai bay was the most enjoyable drive in Langkawi, but Gunung Raya is a much better drive. So we managed to hustle the Passat there.

Like most of the improvements you can see, the B8 Passat also drives with a marked improvement over the previous Passat B7. The older car whilst fun to drive felt like it was working its tyres too hard. When you attacked a corner with it the B7 would lean hard on its tyres. You could feel that the chassis actually left the hard work to the tyres and it felt like you were on the edge of the tyres at its limit. This new car is different in that everything feels more coherent and together. Enter into a corner and you can feel the chassis take up the slack, lean slightly to the outside and then the car just rockets out of the corner. There is less tyre squabbling compared to before. Everything is more fluid, working as one.

One of the reasons why the B8 Passat feels so much better than the B7 is that the B7 is more like a B6.5 as it is what you could say as a super facelift. The Passat B7 was based on the B6 which was launched in 2005. The B7 facelift came about in 2010 and had to soldier on for a bit. In isolation, like the Polo GTI is is a fun car to drive. This is due to that responsive 1.8liter TSI engine and DSG transmission in the B7 (most TSI Volkswagen engineS does make the drive engaging). But now that I've tried the newer car, I can go back and see how the previous Passat struggled at the limit (even though at that point of time it was pretty fun). I suppose you can tell only if you're familiar with both cars.


Both the 1.8 TSI and the 2.0 TSI feels similar but the wider tyres of the 2.0 has more grip overall. Especially with the assistance of the Volkswagen DCC (photo above) which changes the damper settings (slightly). The steering feel for both is quite similar. Accurate but a little lacking in that final bit of feel. You can still place the car where you want but if it were a little more talkative it would be a tad bit easier to judge when the wheels (especially the front) start to lose grip. The tail is pretty obedient on the really nice and windy roads up and down Gunung Raya.

I have to say that the 1.8 is more than adequate if you want to drive fast. The 2.0 is obviously faster, is helped by the grippier tyres and chassis control as well as the oodles of extra torque to slingshot it out of corners (extra throttle adjustability because of the extra 100Nm worth of torque). 

In terms of ride comfort, the 1.8 on the 17 inch wheels and tyres feel more plush. This is even with the comfort setting on the DCC in the 2.0. However, the Continentals on the 1.8 are more sensitive to road surface change in that you can clearly hear the difference in tyre noise over different roads. This surprisingly does not happen in the 2.0 with its larger 18 inch tyres. In terms of handling, it is obvious that the 2.0 feels better. In terms of overall refinement, both are pretty equal actually (especially if you can find 17inch tyres that are more noise consistent over changes in road surfaces).

I came away impressed with the new Passat. In both the variants tested. The interior is so much more premium looking than before. The exterior too – especially the 2.0 (small changes go a long way). The drive is now much improved and close to what something an Audi would offer. It is only slightly behind in terms of overall refinement with the Audi A4 (and the actually similar sized A6). The Audi(s) offer a more muted ride – the engine noise is less in the Audi (less sporty sounding as it has more soundproofing) and it is more consistent in terms of road noise damping. But this is the extra price you pay for a totally premium brand which actually costs a lot more.
Passat 2.0 Highline

My conclusion to this initial drive experience would be that both of the new Volkswagen Passat 1.8 and 2.0 would give you 90% of what a premium D-segment sedan (like an Audi A6) would give and for much less in terms of the price offered. Furthermore, if you are comparing the whole bunch of D-segment cars in the Malaysian market, the Passat is still one of the more engaging drives around (the 2.0 comes very close to being the most exciting drive in its class with the exception of a certain D-segment Ford - It does offer more luxury and more premium fittings by the way).

Granted, the only drawback that one would need to overcome is the perception of the brand here today. Personally, the brand has done a whole lot to the car and deserves a try. And if driving is what you want, this car will not disappoint you.

The all-new Volkswagen Passat B8 will be launched on the 16th of November 2016 with a full 5 year manufacturer's warranty for peace of mind (or as close to it). Prices have not been informed as yet except that it will cost between RM160,000 to RM199,000 as it comes with the Malaysian EEV tax status.  

Variants, Specification (some details) & Equipment Lists - More Photos below
1.8 tsi 180 ps /250 Nm Trendline 
16inch Aragon alloy wheels
Manual Front Seats
Electric park brake

1.8 TSI 180PS/250Nm Comfortline
17inch Istanbul Alloy Wheels
Chrome Package interior
Park Assist
rear view camera
start/stop push button
12 way electric seats

2.0 TSI 220PS/350Nm Highline
18inch Dartford alloy wheels
Carolina Wood decorative inserts
Active Info Display
Chrome package
Electric rear sunhsade
Park Assist
Keyless Access
Rear View Camera
Dynamic Chassis Control
Photos of the Highline and Comfortline are below. As for the Trendline, click here to read about the official launch as well as the photos of the 1.8 Trendline.

PASSAT 2.0 HIGHLINE
















PASSAT 1.8 COMFORTLINE











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